Each dance has their own system and customs for dancing. Some dances have a pretty defined limit of one-song-per-partner, while in others you can spend an hour or more dancing with one person. Tango has the most defined example, with a Tanda (3-4 songs) being the ‘standard’.
I spend the majority of my time dancing Brazilian Zouk, which has a pretty open, multi-song system in both North America and Europe. The ‘norm’ is 2-3 songs per partner in most places. One is still polite and acceptable – but so is dancing for over an hour. I’ve also gone to WCS events, where the general ‘rule’ is one-song-per-partner (or two, if you’re both really feeling it).
While both the one-song-per-partner and a multi-song norm are perfectly reasonable systems, there are some benefits and detriments in both.
The One-Song-Per-Partner System
This approach feels the most fair in many ways. It provides (in theory) equal opportunity for partners to dance with people they enjoy. It also (theoretically) prevents people from sitting down too long, since partners are constantly rotating. In these systems, you know that the most you’ll be waiting for the chance (not certainty) to snag a favourite partner is 1-2 songs.
A 1-2 dance system removes the awkwardness of figuring out how to end an unpleasant dance. If you don’t like a partner, you know the most you’ll have to wait is 3-4 minutes to avoid being rude to the partner. Since it’s also a standard convention, you also don’t need to worry about hurting the person’s feelings by ending the dance “too early”.
A one-dance-system does not need physical or verbal cues to help partners understand when a dance is over. The song does it for them. This means that beginners have an easy way to understand when the dance time is over.
Meet More People
A one-dance system allows you to meet more people than a multi-dance system simply because you will need more partners to make it through the night (assuming the same amount of dance time). This can be helpful for expanding your dance social network.
In my opinion, the one-dance-per-partner can turn the dance experience into an ‘assembly line’ for advanced dancers who have dance lines forming. Each song, they need to adjust to a new partner, get through the dance and…. do it all over again. Every song. For hours, unless they sneak away.
There’s no time to relax and recharge with a preferred partner, which is more present in a multi-dance system. The only way to recharge without constantly rejecting dances is to leave the floor completely.
Every person has partners they enjoy dancing with a lot. A standard one-dance-per-person system lends less flexibility to these preferences. If I really enjoy a partner, I want to dance multiple songs with them – especially if the music is awesome.
While it seems more ‘fair’ to treat every partner the same, it can also feel unfair to not take into account the personal preferences of a dancer – including when they have a really great connection they’d like to explore more.
Obviously, people still have the option of dancing multiple songs. But, when one song is the standard, it can feel awkward to ask for those additional songs (especially if you may get rejected). And, bystanders may feel put out that one of those people isn’t available to dance again.
The Multi-Song System
Get Your Fill
There’s nothing more satisfying (in my opinion) than to be able to ride a great wave of music with a great partner. A multi-dance system allows you to truly dive in to a connection, and explore it until you both need a water break. Even dancing 2-3 songs can often be enough to scratch that itch – but really in-sync partners may go upwards of an hour!
Call a Mulligan (“false start”)
Sometimes, you get a great partner, but an awful song. Or, you just have a dance that you wish you could re-do. Or, the last song was OK – but the song that just started is effing awesome. Multi-song systems give you that opportunity.
Out-of-sync dances drain me. In-sync dances revitalize me. Sometimes, all it takes is a few songs with a partner who makes me feel awesome to get me ready for another hour of dancing. Multi-dance systems allow you to really maximize that re-charge.
I think this is especially the case with in-demand dancers. It’s nice to be able to choose to revitalize yourself with an amazing partner, rather than being stuck feeling like part of an assembly line. Even if it’s just that couple songs extra, it can be just the medicine the person needs to be ready for 30 more dances.
Enhanced Non-Verbal Communication
In some ways, the non-verbal communication used to end dances in multi-dance systems can be a relief for people who are shy about asking for more dances. And, the lack of direct confrontation (ie, not asking to stop, but rather just physically indicating it) can sometimes be easier for people than a verbal transaction.
This isn’t true for everyone, but it certainly is true for some.
Hurt Feelings and Expectations
Some dance scenes expect (rather than provide the option of) more than one dance. This can end up creating hurt feelings in those that did not get multiple dances, for whatever reason.
While I personally feel that people need to be OK with this type of ‘rejection’ on a personal level, it can feel a bit tricky if you’re the person trying to leave the dance without offending someone. If the standard is more than one song, you may feel bad about leaving a dance “too early” – even if there is a reason you’d really like to do so.
Codified Physical Cues
While I personally don’t really think it’s a big deal, open-ended multi-dance systems do require specific cues for dancers to know when a dance is ending. For example, Zouk often uses the hug-and-thank method to indicate when a dance is finishing. If no one hugs-and-thanks, the dance keeps going. This can create a bit of confusion for newer dancers who haven’t yet learned how they can end a dance.
Meeting Fewer People
If you spend a long time dancing with one person, you end up dancing with fewer people throughout the night. This can put a damper on finding new partners you really connect with.
In theory, people dancing multiple songs together means that you’re more likely to be sitting out for longer. This is particularly true if there’s more follows than leads, or vice versa.
In practice, I find that whether you sit out has more to do with how willing you are to go find dances. But, for the passive dancer, it may make a difference.
In my personal opinion, I prefer a multi-dance system as a base – provided that one dance is also acceptable. I like the non-verbal and continuousness of multi-dance systems, and it really has led to some amazing dances for me. Generally speaking, I tend to find myself “wanting more” when each dance is confined to one song – especially when more than one dance is reserved for parties who are sexually interested in each other.
What’s your feeling? Do you prefer a one-dance system, or a multi-dance base? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.